Life-changing events can send a jolt through your well-being, creating a state of unbalance and stress. A major change in your life such as the death of a loved one, losing your job, a divorce, or a major financial change can pull the rug right out from under you, leaving you facing in a completely new direction. When the consequences of any change challenge your abilities or resources to succeed or deal with the circumstances, you use coping strategies to manage the stressful effects of the event. Effective coping strategies will reduce distress. How well people cope has to do with the meaning they place upon the event, their self-confidence and the outcome they expect.

Coping strategies will enable you to keep your cool, stay composed and efficiently deal with the task at hand. In the long term, learning to cope will keep you buffered against disease and enhance your health emotionally and physically. The ultimate goal of effective coping is to return to a state of balance, comfort and productivity.

There are three main coping styles: Problem-focused coping creates a plan of action by gathering information, support and personal resources to find solutions; this works well for situations you have some control over. Emotion-focused coping, such as acceptance, healthy expression of feelings and positive self-talk, manages your distress by changing the attention or meaning placed on the event. Lastly, when a situation seems like too much to handle, escape-avoidance coping creates distance. Escape-avoidance coping can be helpful when used to gather your strength before returning calmly to create a plan of action—for example, taking a break, listening to music or going on vacation. However, when fear is present along with a lack of confidence, escape-avoidance can take a turn into self-destructive behaviors such as drinking in excess, using drugs or binge eating. Maintaining a confident, positive outlook toward yourself and the world will enable you to cope effectively and reduce anxiety and fear.

Maintain a Positive Perspective

Change can be seen as either a threat or a challenge. If change is viewed as a threat, feelings of fear, uneasiness and loss of control are likely to follow. If change is viewed as a challenge and an opportunity for growth, feelings of self-efficacy and motivation follow. How you view change and assess your own personal resources will determine your emotional reaction and coping strategy. Pay attention to your self-talk and shift your language to engage a sense of control and competency:

“Oh no, I can’t handle this! I’m doomed. I’m going to fail.”
Perception of Change: Threat = Fear, Anxiety, Loss of Control

“I can handle this. I have faith things will work out. I will succeed.”
Perception of Change: Challenge = Self-Confidence, Competency, Control

Assess the Change Realistically

Ask yourself, “Is this something I can control or not?” Let go of what you cannot control and focus on what you can. When change is unexpected, the stressful impact is greater. Maintaining a flexible outlook on life will enable you to focus on what you can control.

Accepting that there will be bumps in the road will give you a realistic perception of change. Keep your shock absorbers bouncy! When you encounter a bump in the road, having a rigid approach will give you a jolt when you attempt to drive over it. Maintaining flexibility and understanding that life is full of twists and turns will give you enough cushion to readjust more comfortably.

Release and Rebalance

When life throws you an unexpected curve, identify your emotional reaction and take steps to release any tension. Even minor changes can quickly add up to feeling overwhelmed. Take action to release your emotions in the moment in a safe way. Rather than spelling out the details of why you are feeling how you are, know you are entitled to your feelings, take responsibility and express them. Using “I statements” keeps you accountable for your emotions, increases feelings of control and reduces blame or avoidance. Rather than yelling at a co-worker or spouse, write down your feelings and then summarize how you feel, such as “I feel angry!” Close your eyes and imagine a red ball of anger. Take a deep breath, and as you exhale, imagine blowing the red ball far away until it disappears. While we cannot control other people’s actions and some situations, we can control how we release emotions.

Soothing self-talk produces feelings of control, reduces physical stress and helps you return to a state of balance and peace. Relax, breathe slowly and center your thoughts. Repeat a saying that has a calming effect for you, like “Let it go” or “I will get through this.” Stay positive with yourself! Believe in your abilities to cope and make it through. Your own words are very powerful. Repeat self-affirming statements until you feel confident: “I can do this. I can handle anything. When I get through this, I’m going to celebrate.”

See the Bigger Picture

In moments of change, keep the bigger picture present. Your values, commitments and goals influence how you perceive change. Paint a picture of your life’s plan and acknowledge that this one experience, while taxing, will not impede your ability to live, love and succeed. Retaining a sense of competence will help you glide through a difficult change.

Build Resiliency

Maintaining your health is an important tool to combat stress and improve your stamina for changes in life. Take good care of yourself and ask for help when you need it. Reach out for support. Isolation can make stressful situations worse; take time in your life to build your boat of support. Surround yourself with positive people, utilize your health care professionals and counselors, and join supportive groups. Maintaining nurturing relationships will keep your boat strong and provide additional resources, strengthening your belief in your ability to cope.

Stay Hopeful

Move forward with life. The simple act of taking the first step is often the biggest. Believe in yourself, surround yourself with support, have a plan of action and follow through. Focus on your strengths, what you do well and the simple joys all around you. Maintaining hope and faith will give you endurance to persevere through life’s changes. The greatest challenges in life are met with the greatest strengths within you.

Nova Reed © 2008

Author's Bio: 

Nova Reed, M.A. is a Life Coach, author, and speaker dedicated to helping others work through difficult transitions and realize their fullest potential.

Nova developed the proven coaching strategies of Step Stones For Life defining the universal steps needed to discover and strengthen the path to fulfillment incorporating her background in psychology and health. Nova received her B.A. in Psychology and Social Behavior with an emphasis in Health Psychology from the University of California Irvine. She furthered her education and training at Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology receiving her Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy.

Nova specializes in health, wellness, and relationships. She helps individuals, couples, and families create satisfying, loving relationships, personal success, well-being, and joy.

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